As the new Online Editor for Runners World, I was aware that I may be presented with a number of unusual assignments. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my first little outing on Friday, 8 October.
I was invited to experience a training session with the ultra-trail master, Ryan Sandes.
Fair enough, you may think. Hell run, youll stand next to him, and throw questions at him.
Close but no cigar.
Warming Up For The Ice-man
Once dressed and ready, I was ushered over to an already running treadmill outside the chamber. I caught some mutterings about something about a warm up and assumed I was being warmed up.
Ryan jumped onto the treadmill next to me, and our warmup (and a bit of chit-chat) began.
Ah, how wrong I was. We were, in fact, warming up the treadmills before they went into the cold chamber. Apparently, this is a necessary measure to prevent them from freezing during the session. How exactly I got roped into warming up the treadmill, Im still uncertain.
Entering The Chamber
About 15 minutes later, the treadmills and I were warm enough to enter the chamber. Once the machine was inside, I braced the cold with no extra kit, and continued running. Suprisingly, the -15C condition while running wasnt as harsh as I had expected. Yes – my hands were bloody freezing, and after scrunching my vest sleeves over my chilly hands, I was eventually issued with a pair of gloves. Another complication that I hadnt considered was the cold-weather-running-nose issue. I had visions of emerging from the chamber resembling Lloyd post-scooter ride in Dumb and Dumber.
I was relieved of my assignment after 25 minutes, as a fellow runner wanted to experience the cold. The warmth of the “outside” world hit me as soon as i stepped out of the chamber. While it didn’t seem too bad inside, I wouldnt have lasted much longer in the cold, let alone Ryans time of 4 hours in the chamber. Ryan, however, spent the first 10 minutes kitting up.
The whole point of this particular experience was to test out his gear in extreme conditions.
One of the major challenges of the event is that the athlete cant sweat. If he (or she) does, the sweat freezes. Understandably, this is not ideal.
Conversely, the athlete cant layer up. Marathon running through extreme conditions while overheating is obviously not the ultimate racing experience. Salomon has achieved the balance between these two alternatives and Ryan will be wearing their gear in Antarctica.
Once entirely kitted out from hoodie to gloves to snow goggles all Ryan needed was a pair of Nunchuks and hed have been the 5th (shell-less) member of the Ninja Turtles. (I guess thatd make me April?)
A number of reporters ventured into the room to take photos and attempt to interview Ryan; many left after five minutes. The Last Desert Race
Ryan is currently training for The Last Desert Race that takes place in Antarctica in November. The Last Desert is a series of 4 ultra-trail marathons that takes place in the hottest, driest, windiest and coldest environments on earth. Stretching over 250km, participants are expected to carry all of their own equipment and gear. To enter The Last Desert Race, participants have to have taken part in at least 2 of the first 3 races.
Ryan has taken part in and won all 3.
To prepare for these epic events, Ryan trains in an environmental chamber: a room that simulates the conditions that hell face during the event.
On Friday, the 4 hour training session took place in the cold chamber of Canal Walks Cape Union Mart, at a temperature of -15C.
The catch: thered be a treadmill alongside him. On which Id be running. Sans Salomon snow running kit.
A Quick Background Check
Lets quickly put things into perspective: I enjoy running. Obviously. However, a fair majority of the time, its the enthusiastic wagging of my pooches tails that provides the motivation to lace up my takkies not my own inner ambition. Once Im up on the mountain, overlooking the views of the city and trotting along at my own pace, Im truly content and wouldnt want to be anywhere else. Its the getting there, thats the challenge. In summary – Im a lifestyle runner. Yes, I have a reasonable level of fitness. Would I be able to run a marathon tomorrow? No, most certainly not.
So here I am, first assignment for Runners World, and I have to run alongside the Sandman. Fantastic. To make matters worse, this was a well publicised event and thered be a number of cameras and various media personalities wandering around.
To top it all off, my pooches got hold of my takkies the night before my big run.
So there I was, oversized mans vest for warmth, hippie t-shirt, thin running tights and a half-eaten-foam-spewing-held-together-by-a-thread-takkie. I didnt look the part.
I tied a double knot in my laces, for good measure. I was pleasantly surprised with the entire experience. Not only did I survive, and run for a reasonable period of time (bets were on me lasting 5 minutes), but Ryan is a typically chilled Capetonian. He gets on with it, doing his thing, un-phased by the cameras clicking away. Despite his remarkable achievements in the past few years, Im fairly certain that if you had to meet him without knowing about his background, his extreme racing wouldnt come up in conversation. Hes a pretty modest guy.
Not only is Ryan achieving the impossible in the running world, but hes venturing into environments and landscapes that most mortals can only ever dream about. I look forward to following Ryans career as he continues to blitz records, achieve the unexpected and explore untamed environments.
For more information on Ryan, visit his Website.
To read more about this epic Antarctic adventure, visit The Last Desert website.